South Houston student heads to MIT

May 8, 2008 4:17:26 PM PDT
Although her high school graduation is still a year away, South Houston High School junior Nicole Neveu will be living the college life this summer as a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston.Neveu is one of 40 applicants from a pool of the top eleventh grade female math and science students nationwide admitted into MIT's Women's Technology Program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (WTP-EECS). She applied for financial help and was admitted into the program free of charge.

"It truly does feel like a dream," said Neveu. "Not only did I get accepted, but they are waiving the $3,000 fee and paying for my transportation. It doesn't get much better than that."

WTP is a four-week summer academic and residential experience where female high school students explore engineering through hands-on classes, labs and team-based projects in the summer after 11th grade. Students eligible for the program are expected to have taken the most advanced classes in math and science appropriate for their grade level in their schools, have standardized math test scores (PSAT, SAT, ACT) in the 80th percentile or higher and be able to handle college-level material at a rapid pace.

Neveu's AP science teacher Jim Preston encouraged her to apply for the program and said that he knows she is prepared to handle it.

"I am very proud of Nicole," he said. "She has all the qualities of a great student. She is bright, she is inquisitive, she works hard, she is not afraid to make a mistake, she leads but does not lord over those she is leading, and most important, with all her skills and talents, she is humble. I don't know if she will be an engineer or a computer scientist, I only know she will be successful, under any definition used."

Neveu said applying for the program wouldn't have been easy without the support of her teacher and her family.

"Mr. Preston especially encouraged me to shoot for this experience, and my family also backed me generously," she said. "My mom was just as anxious to check the mail every day as I was. It's nice to have that support system. It makes going after your dreams seem even just a little easier. This has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made."

While her academic credentials meeting program requirements are what got her into the WTP program, Neveu's interests in attending MIT go beyond that?she loves math and science.

"They explain just about anything," she said. "They basically make the world make sense. I love the way you can calculate or predict something with uncanny accuracy. It interests me to know that there is so much we can understand through math and science, yet there is so much more to learn."

WTP works to spark the interest of young women in the future study of engineering and computer science, and Neveu said she thinks it's important for young women to venture into such promising careers.

"It's a career field that's busy," she said. "Technology is rapidly improving with great thanks to engineers, and there is always a new project around the corner. With an ever-changing job, monotony is not exactly a problem. I think it's a great job for people who like to learn, and women are not excluded."

The WTP-EECS curriculum introduces students to computer science, electrical engineering and mathematics topics. The 40 students will be divided into two groups of 20 and will all attend each of the three classes daily. The students will learn to think like computer scientists, be provided with college-level material covering both digital and analog electronics, and use discrete mathematics curriculum to cover a range of subjects that directly apply to electrical engineering and computer science.

Neveu said she knows the course load will be challenging but that it's part of the excitement of the program.

"I am positive the work load is going to be heavy," she said. "I know there is plenty I can learn and tons they plan to teach me. Overcoming the obstacles will just mean that I have to study, work, study, and try to sleep somewhere in between. I know it's going to be hard work, but I'm willing to do it for my future."

The courses will be taught by female graduate students from the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The instructors are assisted by female MIT undergraduate students.

"I think it will be awesome to meet and learn from other girls and women who share common goals with me," Neveu said. "I have no doubt the instructors will be great role models for my peers and me. Knowing them will definitely make me feel more comfortable not only in my abilities but in knowing there is a place for women in the classroom and out in the field as well."

While she doesn't have a great deal of experience in the engineering field, Neveu said her interests in it originated with her stepfather who is a technician that works at Ellington Field and does electrical repairs on the jets astronauts practice in. Neveu said she couldn't contain herself when he took her to the hanger one day.

"To see planes gutted and chaotic wires was incredible," she said. "The realization that someone, my stepdad, holds the knowledge to fix something so complex enticed me. It set the standard high for me, and I want to reach a level of education where I can one day fix the problems that will help the world go round, at least in some small way."

But her stepfather wasn't her only inspiration as Neveu said Preston is the teacher that got her excited about engineering.

"Since I didn't know much about the field, I decided to go asking around," she said. "Mr. Preston answered most of any questions I could throw at him. He really shed light on what it meant to be an engineer. After he started teaching electricity in chemistry, I knew I was sold."

When she's not preparing herself academically, Neveu is involved in the school's student council and the National Honor Society. During football season, she marches as lead trumpet and plays first for the school's concert band. She also volunteers in Pasadena's infamous Big 225 Band.

Neveu attended Pearl Hall Elementary, DeZavala Fifth Grade Center and Miller Intermediate School before heading to South Houston, and she said she owes much of her success to her teachers.

"I could give a laundry list of the teachers that have helped me get to where I am today," she said. "They all deserve thanks."

Preston offered his student some words of advice before her real world experience and said he couldn't wait to hear about it upon her return.

"I want her to just remember who she is and where she comes from and get all she can from this time in Boston," he said. "When she returns, she'll be better for it and can use the experience as she prepares for college and beyond. But most importantly, I told her to have fun."

** What's making the news in local schools? Find plenty of education news and student achievements in our 'In the Classroom' section


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